UPDATE: July 6, 2005 In The World is Flat Thomas Friedman describes how Reuters moved a lot of its base level journalism functions to India. I don't know if big agencies are moving qualitative functions overseas, but I certainly think they will...frankly they'll have to or someone like me will partner with someone in India and put serious downward pressure on the services that can be commoditized, while finding a way to provide better higher level services locally.
If investment banks can move statistical analysis to Bangalore, then PR, marketing, branding, and ad agencies can move the management of tools like Umbria's overseas. This isn't a value judgement, it is just a fact. The creative work and relationship building stuff will remain here, but there is a research component to big brand work that seems destined for outsourcing.
Could be a great opportunity for US PR pros to live overseas...
I recently met with a company that provides analytical tools for watching the blogosphere. My first reaction was, wow, this is something that belongs in big PR agencies.
The tool itself is very powerful, but it is not really plug and play. To get it to work for you (and/or your clients) you have to be familiar with the brand, its lexicon, competitors, and all sorts of other things. In effect you have to customize it. It is much like any other software platform, it is 80% of the way there, the 20% of tweaking you do is what makes it an exceptional tool.
I am going to take Steve’s point a bit further. I think the real gold for large agencies (is Ketchum paying attention?) is in consulting practices the likes of which grew out of the erstwhile big 6 accounting firms. They used their knowledge of accounting to develop software packages that helped large companies manage assets (and a lot more.) The door was opened by their expertise in accounting though.
Big PR agencies likewise have an expertise in language, brands, and search-string research they can leverage to customize tools such as Umbria’s and then add more value with in depth analysis of the brand.